Summary: On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him. No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington). The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking. Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources. 104 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked). The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources. Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.
Cons: The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.
Summary: Aven Green from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus tells how she got her start as a detective back in third grade. In this first installment, she’s working on two mysteries: who is stealing food at her elementary school and what has happened to her grandmother’s beloved dog? Aven is confident in her problem-solving ability (“all of the cells that were supposed to make my arms went into making my brain instead”), and has some good friends who are happy to help. Both cases are cracked by the last page, and there’s a preview of book two, due out in August. Includes a glossary of Aven’s sleuthing words. 128 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: It’s great to meet Aven as a third-grader and learn how she got her start solving mysteries. She is matter-of-fact in her explanation of how she was born with no arms, and both the text and the illustrations show her doing everything for herself with her feet. Her voice is funny and confident, making this a surefire hit with the early chapter book crowd.
Cons: I’m not sure if that crowd will understand the hemorrhoid joke in the “Robot Chickens” chapter.
Summary: Alligators Mango and Brash find themselves investigating multiple cases: first up is the mysterious disappearance of Chef Gustavo. The two don fake mustaches, then head for the restaurant where Gustavo worked. When the oversized cake they bake there shows up after a huge explosion in a science lab, it seems as though an even more nefarious plot is afoot. It’s up to these two reptilian detectives to crack a series of cases, catch the villains, and get the good chef back to his bakery where he belongs. Includes instructions for drawing Mango, Brash, and C-ORB. First in a series, book 2, Take the Plunge is also available. 208 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: The whole time I was reading this, I kept envisioning 8-year-old kids coming up to me to share some goofball passage that would be totally cracking them up. I mustache you to consider this guaranteed crowd-pleaser for your own library.
Summary: Atticus “Atty” Peale knows what it’s like to be different. Her white father and black stepmother and brother make the family stand out in their small Alabama town. She’s learned to speak up for herself, and being the daughter of a public defender makes her want to speak up for others. When she and her younger brother Martinez get to know Easy, a shelter dog accused of biting a man, Atty becomes the dog’s advocate, going to court to try to save him from being put down. Meanwhile, her father is spending long hours at the jail, working to save his own client, a neighbor and friend accused of murder. Could the two cases be connected? Atty, Martinez, and an interesting new seventh grade friend named Reagan need to keep their wits about them to solve the mysteries. 240 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: A fun girl detective with a mind and voice of her own make this debut novel a good choice for mystery fans. There’s lots more there than just cracking the case: the perils of seventh grade, many well-developed quirky characters, and the impoverished but close-knit Alabama small town setting.
Cons: The plot seemed to meander quite a bit, and a subplot about an alligator didn’t seem essential to the rest of the story.
Summary: Agent Anonymoose is recovering from the failure of what would have been his 100th case (he thought the moon was missing, but it was really a lunar eclipse). When he hears that his rival Camo Chameleon has just solved his 100th case, it just rubs salt in the wound. But then a chipmunk arrives with an important message: a key witness in Camo’s last case has disappeared. Agent Moose and his wise sidekick Owlfred head to the chameleon’s 100th-case celebration to investigate. There are adventures and red herrings a-plenty before the two of them manage to crack the case. The mystery is solved, but the villains make a last-minute escape, setting up a second adventure for Agent Moose and Owlfred. 128 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap, rejoice! This is sure to be a hit with the many readers who love graphic novels with plenty of action and zany humor.
Cons: There were a lot of characters to keep track of.
Summary: Jamila wants to spend the summer playing basketball, but her mother plans to sign her up for science camp. A chance encounter with a slightly odd girl named Shirley at a yard sale changes the course of her vacation. Shirley and her mother come to visit the next day, and the moms agree to let them spend their days together on the basketball court. Shirley seems to spend her days reading, but she gradually reveals her amazing powers of observation to Jamila. One day an 8-year-old boy named Oliver comes to the court to ask Shirley for help. It turns out she has a reputation as the neighborhood detective, and his gecko has been stolen from the local pool. Shirley gets to work, with Jamila tagging along. Solving the case almost ends their budding friendship, but in the end, each one sees how she needs the other. Shirley pulls a grand reveal to all involved in the case, as she unmasks the culprit, but also manages to plant seeds of friendships with the kids involved in the case. 224 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: A clever graphic mystery with a bit of a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Shirley has Sherlock’s astute powers of observation and lack of social skills, while Jamila serves as a Watson-like narrator and assistant. The characters are well-developed, and most readers will have to wait for Shirley’s grand reveal to figure out who stole the gecko. I also liked that both characters have just turned 10, as most middle grade novels seem to feature slightly older characters. This seems like a perfect series opener, so we can keep our fingers crossed there will be more mysterious fun to come.
Cons: I was hoping all the kids would become friends at the end, but Jamila and Shirley seemed like they were moving on.
Summary: Gabby and her family have always spent their summer vacation at the family’s lakeside cabin. But this year is different. At the beginning of the week, her father announces that he’s being transferred, but doesn’t know where yet. And there’s a new family staying next door with two obnoxious kids the same age as Gabby and her younger brother. The parents insist that the kids hang out together, and they find themselves breaking into a mysterious mansion that’s been abandoned for years. The house fires up Gabby’s imagination, and she begins writing a mystery about it. When new girl Paige finds out, they start collaborating, using clues they’ve found in the house. Things get a little too real as they begin to find evidence of foul play, possibly involving their kind old neighbor. By the time the week ends, bookworm Gabby has realized that there’s plenty of adventure to be found in real life, and when the family finds out where they’re moving, she’s ready for a new chapter to unfold. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Scholastic Graphix hasn’t disappointed me yet, and this fun summer graphic novel is sure to find many, many fans among the Telgemeier-Holm-Jamieson crowd. The mystery is fun, and family and friendship issues feel real, yet wrap up reassuringly.
Cons: I’d love to see another story about Gabby and/or Paige, but as near as I can tell there are no plans for a series.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Little, Brown for providing me with a free digital copy of this book.
Summary: 16-year-old Goldie Vance divides her time between the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel with her father, and the Mermaid Club with her mother. Her official job is parking cars, but she aspires to be the assistant to the house detective. When the hotel and the club become the location of a new Hollywood blockbuster, Goldie’s there to make sure everything runs smoothly. The glamorous movie star takes a liking to her, and when a diamond-studded swimming cap disappears, Goldie winds up in the middle of the case, gathering clues and interviewing witnesses. Her own mother is a prime suspect, and it’s up to Goldie to prove her innocence and uncover the identity of the real culprit. Reviews I’ve read mention two eight-page color comic inserts, but the Kindle version I got from Net Galley didn’t have these. 264 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Based on the comic created by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Goldie Vance is like a queer Nancy Drew in a 1950’s Art Deco Florida setting. With lots of colorful characters, a unique setting, and plenty of sleuthing action, this is sure to be a popular choice for late elementary and middle school readers.
Cons: The crime didn’t occur until halfway through the book; I was getting impatient to find out what mystery Goldie was going to be solving.
Summary: Keenan’s recovering at his dad’s house on Centerlight Island after contracting TB while living with his mom and stepfather in Shanghai. There are some pretty unique features to Centerlight: the U.S.-Canadian border that runs through the middle of it; the crumbling lighthouse; the gangsters who are rumored to have hidden treasure there; and Zarabeth, a.k.a. ZeeBee, the neighbor girl who befriends Keenan. As the only Canadian girl her age on the island, ZeeBee doesn’t have any friends, but she does have a wild imagination. She’s sure Tommy-Gun Ferguson, the gangster who once lived in her house, buried gold somewhere on the island and she’s equally sure that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered. As Keenan learns more about his new home, he discovers that almost every resident had reason to want ferocious, destructive Barney dead. After a rocky start to their friendship, Keenan and ZeeBee agree to join forces and end up discovering more about Centerlight than they originally bargained for. 320 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It would hardly be a new year without a new offering from perennial favorite Gordon Korman. Told in his trademark alternate points of view–mostly Keenan and ZeeBee, with a few other Centerlight residents occasionally chiming in–there’s enough humor, friendship, and mystery to keep Korman’s many fans happy for another year. Whoops, make that six months–there’s another Gordon Korman book due out in July.
Cons: It was a bit difficult to fathom ZeeBee’s love for and her family’s patience with Barney.
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary: The CIA is desperately seeking Pandora, an equation created by Einstein that has the potential to solve all the world’s energy problems–or to take out large portions of Earth’s population. A terrorist group may be closing in on figuring out Einstein’s super-secret location, so the CIA has decided to recruit Charlotte “Charlie” Thorne, a 12-year-old girl with the world’s highest IQ. She also happens to be the half sister of Dante, the agent assigned to the case. In a series of nail-biting escapades, Charlie and her colleagues race against the clock to try to beat the terrorists as well as a rogue agent in solving the clues to reveal the location of Pandora. Filled with non-stop action and narrow escapes, the story ends ambiguously for Charlie, leaving the door open for a sequel. 400 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Stuart Gibbs fans will not be disappointed with his newest series starter. Charlie occasionally presents as a bratty know-it-all, but then again, she does pretty much know it all, due to her astronomical IQ; she also has a fun disrespect for authority that tweens are sure to appreciate. The pace never slows down, and readers will be propelled through the pages as fast as Charlie travels down her favorite ski slope.
Cons: Although Stuart Gibbs’ other series are popular with my fourth and fifth graders, I’m a little hesitant to recommend this for readers younger than fifth grade. The terrorist leader spews a lot of racist hatred, and there’s a somewhat disturbing scene where a man is burned alive.